Former Chinese Premier Defends Himself in Letter

Wen Jiabao, China’s retired premier, is trying to clear his name. After being bruised by a number of unflattering articles in The New York Times in 2012 that claimed his family had enriched themselves during his term in office, Wen has now written to a newspaper columnist in Hong Kong asserting that he never abused power.

“I have never, and would never, do something that abused power for personal gain, because there is no material interest that could shake my convictions,” he said at one point in the personal letter, photographs of which were widely reproduced on Chinese websites on Jan. 18.

The letter was sent to Ng Hong-mun, a well-known columnist with the daily Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, which is based in Hong Kong. Wen wrote that he often reads and admires Ng’s writings, and the two appear to have been friends for some time.

The letter, spanning three pages, was written in an elegant calligraphic hand. It is the second time that Wen has publicly responded to a lengthy New York Times article, published in October 2012, which alleged that his family controls assets worth nearly $3 billion. Implicit in the piece was the idea that the family had been able to enrich themselves because of Wen’s rising through the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party and the government.

The New York Times piece followed a similar exposé by Bloomberg News about the assets accumulated by the family of Xi Jinping, the current leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

Chinese commentators were quick to suggest that a conspiracy—not necessarily known to even the authors of the articles—engineered by a rival political faction was behind the publication of the reports.

Most recently the veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu claimed in a piece in Deutsche Welle that Bloomberg had received files on most of the top Communist Party leaders, but only published the information it had on Xi. Representatives of Bloomberg and The Times deny those claims.

Gao Yu alleged that behind the conspiracy was the faction associated with Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar who has been under a cloud of suspicion and encircling investigations for many months. Insiders in Beijing told Reuters that Zhou is under “virtual house arrest” while his activities in office are being investigated.

Neither The New York Times nor Bloomberg News has disclosed any of the documents it used as the basis for its articles. Reporters and representatives with the publications said that they were based on publicly available information.

The allegations in the articles were taken seriously by the Chinese communist leadership: after each article was published, the respective website was immediately blocked. Most recently all journalists for both publications had their visa applications delayed for so long that the companies were concerned the entire bureaus would be effectively ejected from China. Visas for most of the reporters were finally granted.

Heng He, a Chinese political analyst, writing in The Epoch Times in November 2012, said: “The wealth of the top officials of the CCP is a very sensitive subject. Most of those officials have gotten obscenely rich in the past few decades, and they all understand the Chinese people, whose standards of living have been suppressed in order to promote China’s export-based economy, will hate them for the wealth they have acquired.”

Other Party families, much richer than Wen Jiabao, did not get the bad press that Wen did. “In exposing Wen Jiabao’s alleged wealth, the article weakens him politically at the moment just before the 18th Party Congress convenes on Nov. 8,” Heng He wrote. The 18th Congress was a pivotal Party meeting that decided the current leadership lineup.

In his letter to Ng, Wen said that he is enjoying a quiet life: “During this period of time I’m at home, passing the life of an old retiree: exercising, reading books, practicing composition, entertaining visitors.”

Later in the note he wrote: “Now that I’m retired, I want to walk well the final journey of human life. I came to the world naked, and clear and clean I’ll leave the human realm.”